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The future of sheep production is in quality hands

Monday 2nd of June 2014
Image: Angus Wolfgang Wicks Tim Mitchell Lachlan Finlay - Farrer College
Image: Angus Wolfgang Wicks Tim Mitchell Lachlan Finlay - Farrer College

New DNA-based parentage tests have been used by Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School students and the experience gained will place cutting edge technology in the toolkit of future sheep producers.

With the support of the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC), the Year 11 students from the Tamworth-based Agricultural High School have tested their flock of White Suffolks to ascertain full pedigree data as part of their HSC studies and in preparation for their annual ram sale that takes place in September.

Having identified the best lambs from this year’s drop, the students have used the more accurate parentage tests to identify the best performing sires from their group mating program.

This additional information will allow the students to identify breeding stock with the right traits and performance for their White Suffolk stud flock.

Farrer teacher Darren Smith said he has been thoroughly impressed with the diligence his students have shown in carrying out the ‘full pedigree’ parentage testing over the past eight months.

"They did a fantastic job last year with lambing rounds, as well as weighing, tagging and separating the sheep – in order to link the lambs to their respective ewe and sire," he said.

"This DNA parentage trial will allow the students, who also undertook the time-honoured practice of recording ewe and lambs at birth, to gain confidence in the validity of the DNA test and significant labour and cost savings that it offers.

"I’m fully confident that once we get the tests back, the conventional measures used by the students will match the DNA tests."

Operating as part of the Federal Department of Industry’s CRC program, the Sheep CRC is a collaboration of industry, government and the commercial sector. It is working to increase the productivity and profitability of the industry through adoption of new technologies in both the meat and wool supply chains.

The Sheep CRC developed the DNA parentage test, which costs producers just $17/head, to advance the speed of genetic improvement in the national flock, by helping to identify the most productive breeding stock more accurately.

Mr Smith said the hands-on evaluation of the new DNA-based parentage test by these students would ensure that use of the technology would be in good hands for future sheep breeding.

Farrer student Angus Wolfgang-Wicks improved his personal confidence in making breeding decisions by partaking in the exercise, and can now see the benefit DNA testing will provide consumers in the future.

"It’s really beneficial to have this experience using very new technology when you’re young; it will give me a lot of confidence going into the workforce, regardless of my chosen field," he said.

"Also, from a genetics point of view, we’ve learnt that the other full genotyping DNA tests that are available through the Sheep CRC can provide information about certain traits like the tenderness of the meat, much earlier in the breeding program."

Fellow student Lachlan Finlay, who hails from a mixed cropping and cattle property in Mullaley, has reaped the benefits of his new found knowledge.

"I’ve thoroughly loved every minute," he said. "It’s great for students who don’t come from sheep breeding backgrounds to learn and apply new skills."

Australia wide, 5047 parentage tests were conducted from September to December last year, with a further 4000 tests ordered during that period – a total of 9047 tests, which is up from 1640 tests conducted in the same period in 2012.

A survey of breeders using the new DNA parentage test indicates that the most common application is to identify sire pedigree when using syndicate mating.

• More information on purchasing DNA tests is available from www.sheepcrc.org.au.

Media contact: Michael Thomson on 07 4927 0805

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